Confronting the moment : remaking politics through “Ku-Klux”

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2019-09-11

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Sumrall, Allen

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White supremacist rhetoric has long been part of the American political tradition. However, not all white supremacist movements have adopted the same rhetorical strategy. Though the Ku Klux Klan has traditionally been treated as a single movement that has undergone periods of resurgence, attuning to the distinct discursive practices and effects of each resurgent movement reveals how discourse can shape political development. This report argues that treating the Reconstruction-era Klan as a different movement than the Klan of the early-twentieth century offers an opportunity to study the “work” that Klan discourse can do. During Reconstruction, “Ku-Klux” did more than refer to the group that invoked it. It was also a synecdoche for white paternalism, mystery, domination, secrecy, Democratic party politics, and the proper role of the federal government. “Ku-Klux” discourse served as a vehicle to preserve antebellum ideas while simultaneously shepherding in reunification. By focusing on the “work” of particular discourses, we can better understand the role of rhetoric and ideas, including white-supremacism, on the direction of American political development

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